You don’t have to be a parenting expert to realize: Keeping kids safe on social media services like Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram has become a top priority for today’s family. But practical, actionable advice for doing so can often be hard to come by. Thankfully, as we discovered while connecting with dozens of parents at youth speaking events and researching new book Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, ensuring that your children are enjoying a positive online experience when posting, tweeting or sending snapshots flying off into the ether doesn’t have to be as challenging as it seems. By employing a few simple tips and tricks, you can quickly put your family on the path toward enjoying a healthy relationship with all things high-tech. Following, you’ll find seven ways to help keep kids safe on social networks.
Avoid Negative Situations—The golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” applies just as much online as it does offline. Teach kids to avoid saying anything negative about specific people, places, classmates, etc., not only because it is hurtful behavior, but it’s almost certain that engaging in this manner will come back to haunt them in the future. Focusing on positivity and avoiding negative comments, status updates and tweets is the best advice for participating on social networks.
Keep the Future in Mind—It’s hard for kids to look ahead since here and now is most often what they are focused on. But especially for older teens who envision college and jobs in their future, the permanence of whatever they put out on their social networks is a very important lesson to teach. Anything they have made public via social media has a long shelf life that could negatively impact their future opportunities.
Use Common Sense—Advise your kids not to spread rumors, innuendo, name-calling and negative gossip. If they can’t back up what it is they’re posting online by being willing to say it directly to others in real life, then they shouldn’t put it out there for the world at large to see.
Monitor Others in Your Kids’ Networks—Don’t be afraid to ask others to remove photos, videos, comments or tags of your kids from their profile which you don’t approve of. Friends won’t want to do anything which could offend you or make you feel uncomfortable, and it will likely even spark a dialogue as to what is and isn’t inappropriate for others to share about your kids.
Respect Boundaries—Although we do recommend that you connect with your kids on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social network they may be on, you as an adult need to also know your boundaries, just as you do in real life. Refrain from posting to their Timeline on Facebook, making embarrassing statements and attempting to connect with their real-life pals online—you may think you’re chummy in real-life, but kids may feel less so than you suspect, or simply be sensitive with regard to perceptions of personal space (online or otherwise).
Provide Balance—It’s also important to encourage kids to spend at least an equivalent amount of time as they spend on social networks engaging in real-life activities. Whether it’s simply requiring certain exchanges or types of communication to be done via phone or in person, or setting aside time for activities not related to online social efforts, a healthy balance between online time spent on social networks and other real-world, face-to-face and outdoor activities is essential for a balanced lifestyle. When kids are on social networks, consider pointing out if real-life friends are online—and encourage them to connect more in the actual world.